Atomic aggregate is a Well-known Discretionary attribute; it must be recognized by all BGP implementations and does not have to exist in all BGP updates.
The purpose of the attribute is to alert BGP speakers along the path that some information have been lost due to the route aggregation process and that the aggregate path might not be the best path to the destination.
When some routes are aggregated by an aggregator, the aggregator does attache its Router-ID to the aggregated route into the AGGREGATOR_ID attribute and it sets the ATOMIC_AGGREGATE attribute or not; based on whether the AS_PATH information of the aggregated routes were preserved or not.
AS_PATH information are preserved if you use the AS_SET segment in the AS_PATH attribute. The AS_SET segment is part of the AS_Path attribute and is used to store an unordered list of AS_PATH information of all aggregated routes to prevent possible routing loops. If the AS_SET is not used in the aggregation process the AS_PATH information of the aggregated routes are not preserved and the ATOMIC_AGGREGATE attribute then must be set. However, if the AS_SET is used then PATH information is preserved and the ATOMIC_AGGREGATE attribute is cleared because no information was lost by the aggregation process.
The default behavior on Cisco routers is that the AS_SET is not used, hence the atomic aggregate must be set in the aggregated route. You must use the as-set argument of the aggregate-address command in order for the router to attach the Path information to the aggregated route by generating an AS_SET segment in the AS_PATH attribute.
JUNOS does the opposite by default, Juniper is attaching all the AS Path information to the aggregated path; this means that the ATOMIC_AGGREGATE attribute is not set by default.
The AS-SET segment is used to prevent BGP routing loops as I mentioned before and I believe it should always be used, unless you have a very specific case to omit it (I’ve only done this in a CCIE study LAB scenario).
The Atomic Aggregate attribute will also be set even when using AS_SET if one of the aggregated route is an aggregate itself and has its atomic aggregate attribute already set.
I have a couple of posts about BGP Route Aggregation, review them if required
And please have a look at Understanding BGP Route Aggregation at Cisco.com
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